Archives For Beatdom Content

Stuff from the pages of Beatdom.

Allegories from the Cave: Burroughs and Trocchi – a Platonic Love

‘Demiurgos scowled, and with that Plato awoke.

Or did he?’

Voltaire

The drug experience has often been perceived as a public and social issue. Yet, drug use and experience are unquestionably a matter of personal choice, as indeed are the consequences. Nevertheless, there is a persistent tension between the public and the private surrounding drug use. The criminalisation and condemnation of drug use in the mid-twentieth century developed entirely within the public sphere. The drug user essentially had no voice and their dependence subjected them to a criminality and demonization. Indeed, the reality of drug use was, and remains, often distorted and misrepresented to the public by politicians and policy makers. A particular case in point being the wide-spread, and persistent view that one drug, like marijuana, if it does not in itself destroy the user’s life, will eventually lead to harder drugs like heroin addiction and criminal activity. But while the public had its spokespersons and rhetoric, like Henry Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to denounce them, drug users and addicts were subjected to an imbalanced power dynamic with no one to speak for them. What we find in The Yage Letters of William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book are efforts to publicly privatise the drug experience. Or to put the matter another way: these works attempt to make the public aware of the user’s private experience. The aesthetic form of these books reflects the public performance of private life. Moreover, what these authors accomplish has unique parallels with Plato’s allegory of the cave in which an anonymous hero reveals ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ to his community. Continue Reading…

Gary Snyder: Heart-Beat – A Diptych

“From a certain point onward there is no turning back.  This is the point that must be reached.”

Kafka

 

 

The Six Gallery Reading

 

They came from the streets: from Fillmore and Broadway, from Columbus and East 7th, from Amsterdam and Morningside Drive.  From Lower Burnside.  Cross-country.  Cross-town.  There was talk of a renaissance.

On this first Friday of October, 1955, a waning gibbous moon was rising in the east.  It had been hot that day, eighty-two and windless.  The sun means nothing in San Francisco.  It’s all about the wind.  It would not be a cold night, the fog, mercifully, offshore, but it would be cool.  It would be very cool. Continue Reading…

Allen Ginsberg’s First Trip to Africa

On 12th September, 1947, Allen Ginsberg shipped out as a utility man on a collier, the S.S. John Blair, for the Ponchelet Marine Corporation. He departed from Freeport, seventy-five miles south of Houston, going through Galveston, passing near Cuba and Haiti, whose mountains Allen watched pass by, and headed for Dakar, capital of the federation of French West Africa, in what is now known as Senegal. Dakar, on the western coast of Africa, had a long colonial history, although like most European colonial possessions, in 1947 this one was nearing the end of its subjugation. Once a major trading port for African slaves, Dakar had a strategic location that ensured its privileged position within the French Empire. The French West African territories were placed under the control of a single governor, who was located in Dakar, and so it had become a seat of power in the region. Indeed, by the early twentieth century, it had become a major city in the empire. As rights were slowly and inconsistently handed out to “French subjects” – ie the Africans whose homelands had been annexed by the French – the people born in Dakar were first to be given the right to vote, and it was from here that the first ever black African elected to the French government was born, Blaise Diagne. A year before Allen’s visit, the French Empire had rebranded itself the French Union to give the appearance of equality, and more limited rights were being rolled out; however, more substantial change was in the horizon, with independence just over a decade away. Continue Reading…

Gonzo Personas: Hunter S. Thompson and John G. Clancy

 

This article first appeared in Beatdom #17.

A little over 10 years ago—February 20, 2005—“gonzo” journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, stuck the barrel of a Smith & Wesson in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Eight months later—October 1, 2005—Hunter’s long-time friend and lawyer, John G. Clancy, died in a rollover on a lonely highway in northern New Mexico.

***

In the summer of 2013, the written and recorded correspondence between Hunter S. Thompson and John G. Clancy was released to the public by Clancy’s widow. Some of these materials provide documentation for several interesting story lines, including evidence that Thompson’s relationship with Clancy may have influenced the development of Hunter’s own “gonzo” persona. Continue Reading…

Beat Family Values: The Typical American Family, and the Beats’ Roll in its Downfall

 

The Beat Movement scared the hell out of America. After all, the Beats were dirty, they were obscene, they were lefties, queers, trouble-makers; they were everything that post-war America did not want, and their work threatened the very fabric of society.

But what was that society made up of? What were the atoms at the core of American culture in the post-war era? ‘The Family’; the perfect, pristine embodiment of new American values, nestled away in suburbia with a bright white picket fence out front and smiles to match.  The Beat represented the antithesis of this, and so the Beats were trouble. Continue Reading…

A List of Countries Visited by Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was a true citizen of the world, at home wherever he travelled. Although he never actually left the United States – barely travelling more than a hundred miles from his place of birth – during his youth, in his early twenties he quickly learned the skills necessary to travel for long periods of time. He could be a typical tourist with guidebook in hand, buying souvenirs and clicking away with his camera, but he was also capable of journeying for years at a time, sleeping in fields, making friends with people from impossibly different backgrounds. He could communicate with people regardless of language and survive on little to no money. Everywhere he went, he brought his ideas to share, but also learned from all the people he met. Continue Reading…

Baraka, Transitions: The man and the poetry

Tenements absorbed the sun to brick and spread the heat like a steam iron, pressing ideas flat, airless, into our street lives.  Waiting for the number to come out, welfare wary, drinking cheap wine, whining about the sure memory of the south, gaining minute reputations, habitually wanting and needing things, observed nodding to nada with the “white lady.” Colored, and recently “Black” by most definition, coping & cropping personalities to a new South in Harlem… Continue Reading…

I’m Watching You Watching Me: The Inversion of the Gaze in Ginsberg’s Photographs

“You never look at me from the place from which I see you.”

– Jacques Lacan

Introduction: The Photographs, The Beats, The Gaze

If we conceive of the photograph as something to be gazed at, what are the affects, then, if the gaze is inverted, and turned back onto its viewer? What happens when the viewer becomes the viewed? To explore these questions, I will analyze a series of five photographs that Allen Ginsberg took while travelling through Tangiers, Morocco, in 1961, from the University of Toronto archives. The photographs were donated by the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation of Montreal in January, 2014 and together compile the world’s largest collection of Ginsberg’s photographs, numbering 7,686. They are housed within the archives of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the Art Centre. A selection of these images have been made publically accessible online through flickr and the Art Centre Online, and from which I am working from. Continue Reading…

Echoes of the Revolution: Diane di Prima and the Beat Generation

This essay originally appeared in Beatdom #17:

 

            “We are in the middle of a bloody, heartrending revolution / Called America, called the Protestant reformation, called Western man, / Called individual consciousness”

—Diane Di Prima “Rant, from a Cool Place”

The Beat Generation sought revolution on a number of levels: social, personal, political, and artistic. Periodically, a literary group, a counterculture, emerges that exists in stark contrast to the prevailing culture of its time. The Beats are a relatively recent manifestation of a recurring historical tendency including the Romantics and Transcendentalists rather than a discrete movement of singular occurrence. Since a comprehensive examination of the entire Beat movement within the context of revolution is difficult in a format of limited length, using a single author to illustrate the larger whole seems most appropriate. Additionally, focusing on a woman to discuss the entirety of the Beat movement is, while not quite revolutionary, decidedly different, possibly even subversive. As a Beat, a woman, and an artist, Diane di Prima considers revolution in all of its various manifestations and possibilities. Continue Reading…

Defining Beat: Era, Location, and the Importance of Considering Women

 

The Beat Generation, though small in numbers, had a profound effect on the American literary tradition. Coming into existence just after World War II, Beat writers sought to examine post-war capitalism and materialism, coupled with hints of Cold War anxiety. These writers were reacting to many of the high modernists, such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, attempting to reclaim literature from academics that often sounded pretentious, detached, and largely inaccessible; the works of Beat authors tend to be closer to confessional, intimate, and, in general, more in touch with the self. Due to the nature of their surrounding social circumstances, many of the Beat authors tended to have similar themes in their works: drug use, restlessness, sexual freedom, and, ultimately, a rebellion against social norms; however, these characteristics do not make a generation—Beat implies time and place as well, largely New York City and San Francisco in the 1950s. Though the “big” Beat authors are male—Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti—several female writers also existed in the Beat movement, including Diane di Prima and Joyce Johnson. In Johnson’s memoir Minor Characters, as well as di Prima’s collection of poetry, Pieces of a Song, and her memoir, Recollections of my Life as a Woman, Beat themes and locations are prevalent, similar to any of the other canonical Beat writers; therefore, di Prima and Johnson should be understood as Beat writers, offering female voices to a male-dominated movement. Continue Reading…